Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Trade Paperback – 29 September 2020)
Series: Standalone/Book One
Length: 368 pages
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
One of Australia’s best authors of fantasy fiction, the legendary Garth Nix, returns with a fun and creative new young adult novel, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London.
Garth Nix is an interesting and talented writer who has been writing since the 1990s, when he debuted with The Ragwitch. Since then he has gone on to write a huge number of fantasy series and novels, most of which are aimed at a younger audience, including The Seventh Tower, The Keys to the Kingdom and the Troubletwisters (cowritten with Sean Williams). However, his most famous body of work has to be The Old Kingdom young adult series, also released as the Abhorsen series. The Old Kingdom books, which started with Sabriel in 1995, follow the adventures of the Abhorsens, a noble clan of necromancers who protect their kingdom from the undead and evil necromancers. I read Sabriel and some of the follow-up books when I was a lot younger, and it remained one of my favourite series growing up (although I do need to reread it, especially as a new novel in the series is coming out next year). Because of how much I enjoyed this series from Nix, in recent years I have kept an eye out for any recent books he has released and I was lucky enough to read his 2019 release, Angel Mage, an entertaining standalone novel that re-imagined The Three Musketeers with magic-granting angels. Due to how much I enjoyed Angel Mage last year, I decided to also try Nix’s 2020 release, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, and I really enjoyed how it turned out.
In a slightly alternate London in 1983, student Susan Arkshaw has arrived in the city shortly after her 18th birthday to find work and to prepare herself for university life. However, Susan is also on a mission to find out who her father is. Despite not knowing his identity or how her mother met him, Susan is certain he lives in the city and is determined to track him down. Her first lead, an old friend of her mothers, seems promising, until he is turned to dust by a silver hatpin wielded by a mysterious and flamboyantly dressed young man, Merlin St Jacques.
After rescuing her from gun-toting thugs and several deadly and mysterious creatures, Merlin reveals that he is a left-handed bookseller, one half of a secret organisation of magical booksellers who police the Old World of legend and magic and ensure that it does not intrude on normal people. Merlin is undertaking his own mission to find the person responsible for the death of his mother and is initially content with letting Susan go about her own business in town. However, when several of the magical and dangerous denizens of the Old World start to attack Susan, it becomes clear that something does not want Susan to find her father.
Drawn into the secret world of magical booksellers and ancient legends, Susan begins to understand the true depths of the world surrounding her. Working with Merlin and his sister Vivien, a right-handed bookseller, Susan attempts to uncover the secrets of her past in order to discover why anyone would be interested in her. It soon becomes apparent that Susan is the key to a terrible and dark plot that threatens the natural order of the world and could lead to the destruction of the booksellers. Can Susan and her new friends face down the dark forces coming towards them, or will the mythic hordes of the past be unleashed on an unsuspecting world?
With The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, Nix has come up with another exciting and compelling young adult fantasy novel that was a lot of fun to read. This new book from Nix is a creative and action-packed novel that follows a bold protagonist as they run headfirst into the midst of a dangerous supernatural world policed by a strange collection of booksellers. The Left-Handed Booksellers of London is a standalone novel (with potential to grow into a series), and Nix does an excellent job setting the scene for the narrative at the start and ensuring readers quickly become familiar with the unique new world he has come up with. I did find that it took me a little while to get into the book, but once I got really involved with the plot the rest of the book flew by and I was able to finish it off rather quickly. This was a really fast-paced story, loaded with all manner of supernatural fights, weird and creative inclusions and a couple of interesting twists, that all comes together into an excellent narrative that will appeal to a wide range of readers.
The major highlights of this book are the crazy and inventive creative elements that Nix has come up with. I love the whole idea of a group of eccentric, combat-trained and magically powered booksellers fighting dangerous creatures, and Nix obviously had a lot of fun coming up with them and introducing the unique elements of their organisation. It was really fun to learn about this unique group of magical heroes, including their various talents, techniques and internal politics. The inclusion of a group of booksellers who have a magical base beneath some of London’s premier bookshops, also ensures that there are innumerable literary references featured throughout The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, and I had fun identifying all of them and seeing which book would be casually mentioned next. There is also an intriguing variety of different magical beings and creatures that the protagonists encounter throughout their journey, including some childlike goblins who trap people in a magical renaissance fair, stalking scarecrows, giant mystical wolves and a series of frightening undead corpses. All of these elements are really cool and immensely creative, and it was a lot of fun to see the protagonist encounter them throughout the course of the book. I really think that this new fantasy location has a lot of potential for other novels and I hope that Nix chooses to visit this alternate version of London at some point in the future.
I also enjoyed the great characters that Nix featured in this book. The story is primarily told through the perspective of Susan, a young woman who is encountering a lot of these supernatural elements for the first time. Susan is an excellent central character, who manages to take each and every new encounter and opponent in her stride, while also providing the reader with a newcomer’s viewpoint to the weird and wonderful Old World of magic. While Susan is a good main character, you cannot help but enjoy the antics of Merlin St Jacques, the left-handed bookseller who introduces Susan to magic and serves as her protector and love interest. Merlin is a cocky and funny character who has a love of fancy clothes (he has innumerable outfits), and a penchant for crossdressing. Merlin serves as a great comic relief character for most of the story, although he isn’t afraid to get serious at times, especially when forced to deal with the tragic death of his mother or the consequences of his own mistakes. This group of main characters is rounded out by Merlin’s twin sister Vivien, a right-handed bookseller (which gives her a different set of magical powers and responsibilities). Vivien serves as a counterbalance to Merlin’s more eccentric tendencies, acting as the more sensible member of the trio and serving a vital story role as a result. These three young main characters are also backed up by a range of distinctive and enjoyable side characters, including the various booksellers, each of whom has a unique design aesthetic. All of these characters help to make a great story, and it was a lot of fun to see this adventure take place in front of their eyes.
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London is another excellent novel from Australian author Garth Nix, who once again presents the reader with an exciting and clever young adult fantasy novel. Thanks to its great story, amazing creative elements and compelling characters, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London is an awesome read that will be enjoyed by its intended younger audience while also remaining appealing for an older audience. This is a really fun book to check out, and I look forward to seeing what crazy adventure Nix comes up with next.